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Emerald, VIC

First European settlement in the Dandenong Ranges, now a commuter suburb

Today Emerald is a south-eastern suburb of Greater Melbourne. Lying at an altitude of 318 metres, it sits on a ridge overlooking Emerald Lake and the Cardinia Reservoir. It is a town with some interesting historic firsts - it was the first town to develop in the Dandenongs; it was a town where the Carl Nobelius established a huge and internationally successful nursery for a wide range of plants. Today it is popular as an ideal place for bushwalking and for escaping from Melbourne for the weekend.


Emerald is located 53 km south-east of Melbourne in the Dandenong Ranges. It lies at an altitude of 318 m.


Origin of Name

The settlement, located on Emerald Creek, was first known as Main Ridge. It was renamed when, after a public meeting in March, 1859, a resolution was proposed "That the name of these diggings be called the Emerald diggings, in consequence of the discoverers being with one exception natives of the Emerald Isle." This resolution was passed with loud and protracted cheering. The names of the discoverers was then read out to the meeting, vis. - Patrick O'Horan, Patrick Geraghty, John McEvoy, John Walsh, John Hore, Henry Edwards, William Anderson, Peter Patterson, and Dutch Harry.


Things to See and Do

Emerald Heritage Walk
There is a pleasant, 50 minute walk around Emerald which visits eleven important, and historically interesting, places around the town. It can be downloaded at http://easterndandenongranges.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Emerald-Heritage-Walk-Map.pdf. The places of interest include:

1. Emerald Station
Located just off Puffing Billy Park and Kilvington Drive, the Emerald Station was built in 1901 after Carl Nobelius had successfully lobbied the government to build a railway so that his vast nursery could import and export plants. The narrow gauge railway runs from Ferntree Gully to Gembrook.

2. Church of Christ
Located on the Belgrave-Gembrook Road, the Church of Christ (now the Community House Hall) was built in 1914 and used as an annex to the state school in the 1930s and 1940s.

3. First Baby Health Centre
Now known as the Infant Welfare Centre, this Baby Health Centre was opened in 1940 and has operated continuously since then. It was one of the first brick buildings in Emerald. There is a plaque outside.

4. First Pharmacy
Located on the Belgrave-Gembrook Road, this is a reminder of how essential services operated in small country towns. A Mrs Meg Mickelborough established Emerald’s first pharmacy in this cottage. She worked from the front enclosed veranda and used the kitchen as her dispensary.

7. Emerald Museum and Nobelius Heritage Park
Located at 5 Crichton Road, the Emerald Museum and Nobelius Heritage Park is a combination of a museum which is open Sunday 1.30 pm - 4.00 pm, Wednesday and Thursday 10.00 am - 3.00 pm and a park. The Museum, as the website explains: "houses and selectively displays approximately 2,000 photographs, 600 memorabilia, documentary records, including contemporary records and family histories relevant to the economic, social and environmental history of the Emerald district." This includes Aboriginal artefacts; a history of the local gold discoveries; the story of the Nobelius nursery; the timber industry and farming; and the development of the town.
The Nobelius Heritage Park is a 4.5 ha heritage site which was once part of the world-famous Nobelius Nursery which was started in 1886 by Swedish immigrant Carl Axel Nobelius. The website explains: "The nursery exported fruit and ornamental trees to five continents and, through the supply of exotic trees to municipalities throughout Australia, had a significant influence on the nation's landscapes. The nursery covered more than 650 hectares at its peak just before WWI, employed 80 people and was the largest exporter of fruit and ornamental trees in the Southern Hemisphere. The park is preserved as a remnant of this historic enterprise, with many specimens of trees once stocked by the nursery." Check out https://www.emeraldmuseum.org.au for more details.

8. Nobelius Siding and Packing Shed
Listed by the Victorian Heritage Register, the entry notes: "The former Nobelius Nursery is historically significant as part of the vast Gembrook Nursery established by Carl Axel Nobelius from 1886. In the early twentieth century it was of one of Australia's foremost plant nurseries, and was described in 1920 as the largest nursery in the southern hemisphere. It was the originator of an extensive range of exotic plants and fruit trees, supplied other prominent nurseries of the era, and influenced garden and orchard plantings throughout Australia, as well as exporting to the USA, South America, South Africa, New Zealand, Europe and Asia. Through the supply of exotic trees to municipalities in many parts of Australia the Nobelius Nursery had a significant influence on Victoria's landscapes, including public parks, private gardens, orchards, avenues of honour and tree-shaded streets. The nursery is significant for its association with Carl Nobelius, important for his association with the Belgrave to Gembrook narrow gauge railway line, now part of the Puffing Billy Railway. This was a facility sought and heavily used by Nobelius in his nursery and orchard business, and included a siding serving his packing shed, and also provided the local farming and nursery industries with easier access to their markets and so contributed to the development of the Emerald region. Nobelius is significant in the horticultural history of Victoria for his investigations into plant selection, particularly their suitability for local climates." For more detailed information check https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/3706.

11. First Police Station
Located on Kilvington Drive near the Primary School, this building was the residence of the Emerald Township’s first formal policeman – Constable William Rogers – from 1909. Note the small “lock-up” on the left rear side of the building where prisoners were held.

Emerald Lake Park
Emerald Lake Park lies just east of town at the end of Emerald Lake Drive (which runs off Beaconsfield Rd). This 52 ha heritage park features both Lake Treganowan and Lake Nobelius as well as native and exotic tree species and expanses of lawn, picnic and barbecue facilities, an Environment Centre, a wading pool, paddleboat hire. A short walking track starts at the Lakeside Car Park on the western side of the lake. There are many other longer walks - the park has 10 km of walking trails. Home to purple swamp hens, Eurasian cootes, ducks, dusky moorhens, kookaburras, rosellas, echidnas, and black wallabies it offers delightful opportunities for pleasant recreation.
This park was once part of the historic Nobelius Heritage Nursery which is still in operation. It was started by Carl Nobelius and the lake was established in 1940 and named after W.H. Treganowan who took over the nursery after the death of Nobelius in 1921. On the hillside are six bas-relief murals depicting important features of local history such as Puffing Billy, goldminers and Carl Nobelius. Check out https://www.cardinia.vic.gov.au/info/20036/emerald_lake_park/612/about_emerald_lake_park for more information.

Emerald Lake Model Railway
Located on Emerald Lake Road at Emerald Lake Park, adjacent to the Lakeside Puffing Billy railway station, is the largest model railway in the southern hemisphere. It is an impressive scale model railway display which features 2 km of track, detailed scenery, 370 working engines, 450 cars and trucks, 250 houses and buildings, street and platform lights, 1100 trees, 1500 people, and push-button participation.  It is open from 11.00 am - 4.00 pm during October to April and 11.00 am - 3.00 pm during May to September. For bookings ring (03) 5968 3455. Check out http://www.emeraldlakemodelrailway.com.au.

Puffing Billy
An historic steam train known as 'Puffing Billy', which has become an iconic image of the Dandenongs, runs from Belgrave through Emerald to the Lakeside station and back (26 km return - 1 hour) and sometimes on to Gembrook and return (48 km return - 1 hour 50 minutes). It operates every day from the Puffing Billy railway station which is located at 1 Old Monbulk Road, Belgrave.
The number of trains per day and the timing of their departure varies so it is necessary to check the website. You can pick the train up at any of the three stations and travel to any of the others. There are also special night trains and the Luncheon Special which departs Belgrave at midday. It offers the choice of First Class travel in the dining carriage on a trip to Emerald.
The Puffing Billy Steam Museum is located behind the Menzies Creek station. It houses a collection of Australian and overseas narrow-gauge locomotives, rolling stock and steam machinery. Passengers may break their journey at Menzies Creek to visit the Museum and then continue or return on a later train.
The trip from Belgrave station to Gembrook takes in Sherbrooke Forest, several fine trestle bridges, Selby township, the landslide site, Menzies Creek station, the Steam Museum, Emerald, Emerald Lake Park, Wright State Forest, Cockatoo Creek valley, Cockatoo township, a number of remote train stations in picturesque bush settings, Gembrook and panoramic views over farmlands, Port Phillip Bay, Westernport Bay, Cardinia Reservoir, Arthurs Seat, the Yarra Valley wine region and the Warburton Range. For information contact the Belgrave office on weekdays from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., tel: (03) 9757 0700. There is a detailed and comprehensive web site - https://puffingbilly.com.au.


Other Attractions in the Area

Emerald-Cockatoo Trail
This 6.2 km trail (it takes around 2.5 hours), which is ideal for both walkers and cyclists, starts where the Puffing Billy Railway line crosses Kilvington Drive and follows a series of yellow arrows until it reaches Cockatoo. The trail passes through natural settings including Nobelius Heritage Park, Emerald Museum, Emerald Lake Park and Wright Forest.  It is an easy walk. For excellent details and a good map check out https://www.trailhiking.com.au/emerald-cockatoo-trail.

Butterfield Conservation Reserve
Located at 172 Emerald-Monbulk Road, the Butterfield Conservation Reserve is an area of protected native forest located adjacent Woori Yallock Creek. The main attraction in the Reserve is the 3 km loop Wildlife Reserve Walk which starts from Emerald-Monbulk Road. Other places of interest include the remnants of Bill Butterfield's cottage and a series of walking tracks which follow the original trails which were constructed in the 1850s for visitors from Melbourne. Near the entrance gate is the Emerald Diggings Picnic Ground, and an access point to the Dandenong Ranges Tourist Track. It is also possible to see the helmeted honeyeater and Leadbeater possum whilst walking in the reserve. Check out https://www.melbourneplaygrounds.com.au/butterfield-conservation-reserve-emerald#.XUjkni1L1Bw for more information.

Dandenong Ranges National Park
Lying to the north-east of Emerald is the Dandenong Ranges National Park (3,540 ha) was declared in 1987 when the Ferntree Gully National Park, Sherbrooke Forest and Doongalla Estate were amalgamated. A decade later the Olinda State Forest, Mount Evelyn and Montrose Reserve were added. The park, which stretches from Kalorama in the north to Belgrave in the south is primarily a place for walking, sightseeing, picnicking, nature observation and car touring. More than 400 plant species have been recorded in the park, including the rare cinnamon wattle and smooth tea-tree, 130 bird species, 31 species of mammals (most are nocturnal), 21 reptile species and nine amphibians.

Parks Victoria has divided the park into four distinct areas:
* Olinda Area
* Doongalla Area
* Ferntree Gully Area
* Sherbrooke Area

Each has its own attractions and they can best be explored by:
(a) check out https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/dandenong-ranges-national-park and downloading the specific Visitor Guides for each section.
(b) checking out Aussie Towns specific entries on Belgrave (https://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/belgrave-vic), Dandenong, Upper Ferntree Gully, Kallista, Kalorama (https://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/kalorama-vic), Monbulk, Olinda (https://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/olinda-vic) and Sherbrooke.

The southern section of the National Park is known as Sherbrooke (over 800 ha) which extends from Selby in the south to Sherbrooke in the north and the Mt Dandenong Tourist Road in the north-west. This section of the Park is known for its impressive stands of mountain ash. Most grew after a severe fire in the 1920s. The largest flowering plant in the world, they can reach a height of 100 m and can live for 500 years. Sherbrooke forest is home to lyrebirds, ring-tailed and brush-tailed possums, blue-winged parrots and tree creepers which forage from the tree trunks. There are a number of excellent Picnic Grounds.

Cardinia Reservoir Park
Cardinia Reservoir, located to the south and south-west of town, is Melbourne's largest water storage dam. When full it contains 287,000 megalitres and has a shoreline of 56 km. It was built between 1970-1973 at a cost of over $11.4 million.
The large reservoir is primarily used by the public as parkland with picnic-barbecue facilities. There are also walking trails and kangaroos can be seen in the area. The Henley Picnic Area, off Wellington Road, is the area which attracts tourists. It has a northern and southern lookout; the excellent Duffy's Lookout; picnic area sat Kangaroo Flat, Crystal Brook and Duffy's Lookout and there are two excellent, and modest, walking trails:
* Tea Tree Trail - which is 2.5 km which takes about 45 minutes one way. The self-guided trail goes through bushland from Duffy’s Lookout to the Observation Car park. .
* Kangaroo Viewing Trail - is only 700m which takes around 15 minutes one way. This is a trail where visitors are likely to see kangaroos, particularly around dawn and dusk.
The trail heads downhill to Crystal Brook Picnic Area and there are information boards along the trail. There is a useful, downloadable Visitor Guide at https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/315846/Cardinia-RP-Aura-Vale-Lake-visitor-guide.pdf.

Gembrook is a village located 12 km east of Emerald. Named after the Gembrook Mining Company which extracted gemstones from the area during the mid-19th century, it is now the eastern terminus of the Puffing Billy scenic railway. European settlers began to arrive in the early 1870s. Farming developed at Upper Gembrook and apple orchards at Lower Gembrook. The narrow-gauge railway, which arrived at the turn of the century, brought holiday-makers  and the Ranges Hotel opened to cater for the visitors. Today Gembrook is largely home to people who commute into Melbourne. Visitors can enjoy a picnic or barbecue and the children's play facilities at Russell Park.

Bunyip State Park
Bunyip State Park (16,600 ha) is located 20 km east of Emerald and 8 km south-east of Gembrook. Featuring a diversity of flora and fauna it is ideal for bushwalking, picnicking, horse riding, mountain bike riding, camping, 4WD and trail bike riding.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans the land was settled by the Balluk-William clan of the Woiwurrung tribe. They believed that a dark furry animal with fiery eyes called a bunyip (it was a spirit which punished bad people) lived in the swamps of the Bunyip River. They avoided these locations and Europeans tended to avoid stopping near the bunyip holes.
The first mill in the district was built in 1898 and when the rail line from Upper Ferntree Gully to Gembrook was built in 1900, tramways were built to carry timber from the bush sawmills to Gembrook. Remnants of timber tramways and large sawdust heaps (one is opposite Dyers Picnic Ground) remain. Logging ceased in 1990 and the park was declared in 1992.
Swamp heathland covers much of the low-lying, poorly-drained ground. Prickly tea-tree and the tiny southern emu wren are common in these areas. The heath woodland is full of stringybark with an understorey of banksia, hakea and rare swamp bush-pea. Honeyeaters live in this ecosystem while tree creepers inhabit the foothill forests of silver and messmate. Thornbills and wrens live in the undergrowth. On the steep southern slopes are mountain ash (the tallest flowering plants in the world) and silver wattles where yellow-tailed black cockatoos live. The park's possums, owls, bats and gliders are nocturnal although swamp wallabies and goannas can be seen in the daytime.

The excellent Parks Victoria Visitor Guide (it can be downloaded at https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/313597/Park-Note-Bunyip-State-Park.pdf) lists seven walks in the park:

* Mortimer Nature Walk - 1.2 km, 45 minutes return - departs from the Mortimer Picnic-Camping Ground which is located on the site of the first sawmill in the area.
* Four Brothers Rocks - 500 metres, 30 minutes return - departs from the parking bay on Burgess Road and goes to Four Brothers Rocks - a group of granite rocks which offer panoramic views across the park.
* Lawson Falls Walk - 750 m, 40 minutes one way - is a walk to the only waterfall in the park.
* Buttongrass Nature Trail - 3 km, one hour return - a walk through wet heathland notable for its hakeas, wattles, tea-trees, mistletoe, swamp bush pea and button grass.
* Mortimer Circuit Walk (1) - 4.3 km , 90 minutes return - leaves Mortimer Picnic Ground and follows Ferres Track.
* Mortimer Circuit Walk (2) - 9.5 km, 4 hours return - leaves Mortimer Picnic Ground  and heads to Tree Fern track and along Silvertop Ridge Track.
* Weatherhead Range Circuit - 10 km, 4 hours return - pleasant walk through woodland and up onto the Weatherhead Range.

Kurth Kiln Regional Park
Kurth Kiln Regional Park (3500 ha) lies 8 km north and north-east of Gembrook via either Beenak Road or Launching Place Road. Its appeal lies in its pleasant and short bushwalks notably"
* Tomahawk Creek Circuit - which is a 2 km, 30 minute walk from the Kurth Kiln Picnic Ground which follows Tomahawk Creek through a moist, messmate forest.
* Thornton Walking Track - which is a 2 km, 30 minute walk from the Kurth Kiln Picnic Ground which passes through seven different plant communities.
* Shiprock Falls - a short 300 metre, 10 minute return to the falls.
The park contains plant communities from mountain ash to swampy heathland which supports flora including the rare long pink-bell, tall astelia, jungle bristle-fern and brickmaker's saw sedge. Wombats, echidnas, marsupial mice, bush rats and swamp wallabies can be seen while the possums and various gliders (which can glide for up to 100 m from tree to tree) are nocturnal. There are also plenty of birds including lyrebirds, parrots, kookaburras, honeyeaters, cockatoos, butcherbirds and currawongs.
Another attraction in the park is the Kurth Kiln (located near the Picnic Ground) which was built during World War II to make charcoal which was used to produce a combustible gas which substituted for petrol during periods of wartime rationing. The nearby historic cottages housed charcoal workers and their families. Check out https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/313807/Visitor-Guide-Kurth-Kiln-Regional-Park.pdf for more detailed information.



* Prior to European settlement the area was home to the Woiwurrung Aboriginal people.

* The forests drew timbergetters in the early days of European settlement who supplied a growing market in Melbourne.

* In 1851 gold was found by a party known as the "Lucky Germans" near what is now known as the Emerald Diggings Picnic Ground

* Gold was discovered at Emerald (and at Cockatoo located 6 km to the east) in 1858.

* By 1859 there were 2,000 miners in the area.

* A town was planned for 1859 but the gold ran out and the settlement eventually emerged as a service centre for a developing local agricultural industry.

* Emerald was first settled in the 1870s but progress was tardy as the land was difficult to clear.

* In 1876 Bosisto established a eucalyptus oil processing factory in the town.

* In 1886 a famous nursery was started in the late 19th century by Carl Nobelius, allegedly a relative of Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel Prize awards.

* Nobelius House, built in 1888, was one of the Dandenongs' first guesthouses.

* In 1890 a blacksmith's shop was opened in Emerald.

* The narrow-gauge railway from Belgrave to Gembrook was completed in 1900. It later became the Puffing Billy tourist route.

* The Emerald school was opened in 1900.

* A Mechanics Institute was opened in 1905.

* An Anglican church was consecrated in 1906.

* By 1914 Nobelius had created one of the largest nurseries in the southern hemisphere with about 200 000 trees on 180 ha. The nursery employed 80 people.

* In 1915 a local cricket club was formed.

* In 1919 Katharine Susannah Pritchard spent her honeymoon in a cottage her mother had purchased at Emerald.

* In 1921 Nobelius' land was acquired and Emerald Park was established.

* By 1928 the town had its own golf course.

* In 1934 the town was connected to mains electricity.

* The Baby Health Centre was opened in 1940.

* The Emerald Co-operative opened a hardware store in 1945.

* In 1953 the Puffing Billy railway was closed due to a landslide.

* In 1962 the Puffing Billy railway was opened as a tourist attraction.

* By 1973 the Cardinia Reservoir had been completed and was opened.

* In 1981 the Emerald Museum opened in the community hall.

* The town got its own secondary school in 1985.

* In February, 2009 45% of Bunyip State Park was destroyed by bushfire.

* In 2012 the Nobelius Heritage Park was listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.


Visitor Information

Eastern Dandenong Ranges Visitor Information Centre, 15 Kilvington Drive, Emerald, tel: 0419 584 498.


Useful Websites

The official website is https://visitdandenongranges.com.au/emerald.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

3 suggestions
  • Do you have any more info on the Woiwurrung and their way of life around Emerald and the Dandenongs? Considering the length of time they have been here for I imagine there is more to be said than one simple dot point.

    Rob Imlach
    • I agree. One line for thousands of years is insulting. BUT the problem is that we are still not writing well researched histories of the local First Nation peoples. When that happens I will be happy to alter the history and to integrate their story.

      Bruce Elder
  • From the Mortimer Picnic Ground there is a walk on a track call the Ferres Track.

    John Ferres settled in Emerald. There is a street named after him and he was also the first Victorian government printer. He printed the gold licenses when they were required. On John Ferres’s farm in Emerald, they had a potato farm and they walked with the horses and carts to Dandenong to the markets to sell them. They also did logging in this area. I have a photo of a tree cut down at the time and put onto large wagons, in the early 1900’s or late 1880’s.

    Julianne Ferres